The Government estimates it will pay out Â£19.6 billion in housing benefit during the 2009/10 financial year, according to figures slipped out on the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) website. The year-on-year rise, of almost 15 per cent, is the steepest for more than 15 years. In 2010/11 the bill is expected to rise still further, to Â£20.8 billion. The leap in handouts will add to pressure on Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, as he attempts to rein in public spending across the board. It comes after the Government promised last month to crack down on excessive housing benefit claims. Despite repeated pledges by politicians to overhaul Britain's welfare system, the DWP expects its total benefit expenditure to climb to almost Â£150 billion this year â the combined cost of the education, defence and transport budgets â as more people become unemployed and start to claim. Theresa May, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Labour's failure over the past decade to take the tough decisions on welfare reform is coming back to haunt them. "Housing benefit can provide valuable help to people in work or pensioners, but the reality is that these figures are symptomatic of a wider trend of benefit dependency. It is simply unacceptable that the taxpayer is left to foot the bill for Labour's decade of incompetence." Earlier this year The Sunday Telegraph revealed that housing benefits were paying for an unnamed family to live in a seven-bedroom home at a cost to taxpayers of Â£147,000 a year, while 550 families were receiving more than Â£30,000 annually in housing handouts. Last year James Purnell, then the work and pensions secretary, promised an overhaul of the housing benefit system after it emerged that Toorpakai Saiedi, a single mother of seven from Afghanistan, was living with her children in a privately-rented, seven-bedroom, Â£1.2 million house in west London with her rent of Â£12,458 a month paid by taxpayers. In another case a Somalia-born couple and their eight children were paid Â£1,600 a week in housing benefit to live in Â£1.8 million London mansion. And last month it emerged that single mother-of-eight Francesca Walker is living in a five-bedroom, Â£2.6 million home, again in London, where she receives more than Â£90,000 a year in housing allowance. The Government is now planning to launch a consultation on proposals which it hopes will limit the number of people claiming for high-end rents. The proposals include barring the top five to 10 per cent of rents, or banning claims from the most exclusive areas, such as London's Canary Wharf. But critics say that the Government still needs to do much more to get tough on large housing benefit payments. Susie Squire, the political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "The welfare state is undoubtedly broken and in many areas is simply not fit for purpose, and nowhere is this more evident than with housing benefit. "Despite repeated high profile examples of benefit claimants living in accommodation that is unaffordable, and repeated pledges from the Government to reform the system, nothing has been done. "The situation is unsustainable, taxpayers cannot be expected to simply keep paying more and more to fund a faulty system. "We need to see root and branch reform of the way we distribute housing benefit, so that we make sure vulnerable people are getting the help they need, unscrupulous landlords are not allowed to milk the system, and taxpayers get value for money for the billions they pay in good faith." Housing benefit is a means-tested handout which supports people who are unemployed or in low-paid jobs, together with their families, to live in accommodation rented from a council, housing association or private landlord. It is administered by local authorities but the money comes from central government. Nationwide 17 per cent of households receive some form of housing benefit, but in areas of London the figure reaches more than 40 per cent. A DWP spokesman said this year's housing benefit bill was still provisional and could fall if the economic climate improved. He added: "Any responsible organisation will estimate future spend based on a range of different scenarios to allow for flexibility. During a recession more people might need the important support provided by housing benefit and it is absolutely right that we budget for this." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/recession/6924122/Housing-benefit-bill-rises-to-nearly-20-billion.html I'm sorry but 20 billion is taking the severe piss! The examples of dirty single mothers with 8 kids living in some of the best parts of London is beyond belief.